Book Review: N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

From the Stacks is a recurring feature at PLC where we review books from our nightstand stacks- because whether published two years ago or twenty, a good book is a good book.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a beautifully written debut novel by N.K. Jemisin. Her writing style is a delight, and is my second favorite thing about the book. My first favorite thing about the book is that the protagonist is a woman who relies on her heart and her brains to get things done.

Upon the death of her mother, Yeine, a half-black barbarian woman from a matriarchal northern backwater, is summoned to the glamorous, decadent capitol of Sky. There she learns she is the heir to the throne- if she can survive to claim it.

However that is not the only claim laid on Yeine. The gods walk in Sky. They are bound, but not impotent. And they have taken an interest in Yeine, one that does not necessarily bode well for her survival.

As I mentioned before, the gods are bound. Their slavery is horrifying, as is the subtler realization that all the servants of Sky are actually related to the king, an idea that takes the hostage “ward” of other fantasy novels to an entirely different level. In this utterly hostile setting, Yeine stumbles through the intrigues of both gods and men, propelled by the sheer force of her stubborn, kind heart.

Racism is handled deftly in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. As one of the only black persons in Sky, we are always made aware of Yeine’s differences and how those differences affect the way others treat her, but it is never overdone or grating. There is not an overly-large amount of description in the book, which is definitely to my taste, as those are the parts I usually skim. There is also not an overly-large cast, which surprised me, as I was expecting more of a Machiavellian court intrigue. But I felt that what I got was better- a meditation on love and family, freedom and slavery.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a book of inversions. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am really looking forward to reading the sequel, The Broken Kingdoms. (I actually already tried to buy it last week, but was thwarted by my tantrum-pitching two-year-old. Children are such a delight.)

Oh, and if you’re curious, you can read the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here at Orbit’s website, and get a taste of Jemisin’s lovely prose.